Not long ago I got a desperate message from C. J. Coffman who lives in Michigan. It seems that he and his family are crazy about a certain item that mysteriously disappeared from the Applebee’s® menu a couple of years ago—Crispy Orange Skillet.

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Coffman is not the first reader I’ve heard from about this turn of events. Early on, readers wanted to know how to make this entree themselves, as it could become pricey to eat out as often as their cravings dictated. But then a couple of years ago, this hugely popular dish just up and disappeared from the menu! Applebee’s response continues to be that they appreciate customers’ feedback, but that they make changes to their menus from time to time and we never know when favorites will make a come back.

Coffman closed his letter by telling me what a big fan he is of this column, which was a good move on his part. I’m not above a little flattery from time to time. Read more

If you’ve ever wondered if it’s okay to wash your down comforter without taking it to the dry cleaners, the answer is yes. You can absolutely wash your down comforter without spending upwards of $60 (depending on the size, where you live, and how dirty it is) to have it dry cleaned professionally.

All you need is a mild detergent, wool dryer balls (or tennis balls), a few hours to spend at a laundromat and patience. And if yours is a king-size comforter, a lot of patience.

A row of industrial washing machines in a public laundromat.
A row of industrial washing machines in a public laundromat.

To do this, you’ll need mild detergent (our homemade detergent is ideal, or Woolite), wool dryer balls (or tennis balls work as well), an extra-large front loading washing machine (most home models are too small for this task) and an extra-large dryer. Here are step-by-step instructions:

Step 1

Load your down comforter into the largest extra large front-loading washing machine at your local laundromat. The less crowded the comforter is in the washer and dryer, the better the results.

Step 2

Add a small amount of mild detergent. Be careful here as too much detergent will strip the down or feathers of their natural coating that makes down or feathers such a wonderful thermal insulator.

Step 3

Select the gentle or delicate setting on the washer and two rinse cycles. It is very important that the last bit of detergent be rinsed out. Read more

If there’s one thing that I love about my loyal readers, it’s how responsive you are. Sometimes you like what you read, other times not so much. Now and then you simply need more information. But no matter what, I can always count on hearing from you. Which brings me to a previous column I wrote on pulling the plug on subscription pay TV. It brought a huge response.

According to NPD Group, the average pay-TV bill is $123 per month—more than $1,400 a year. For many, that’s money that could be better used to build an emergency fund or pay off debt. No wonder that column struck a chord with so many readers.

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The most-asked question had to do with the need for an antenna to receive free, local HD broadcasting. Which kind? Which one works best?

As I was fielding your messages, my husband and I were in the process of relocating. We did it! In April, we moved from California to northern Colorado, about 20 miles north of Denver. What a change from big city life in Orange County to living in the country. Our little village boasts a population of just 18,000. And what a perfect opportunity to test antennas to find the best way to enjoy free TV and quality programming in our new location. Read more

Children learn by asking questions. Students learn by asking questions. New recruits learn by asking questions. I learn by asking questions! It is the simplest and most effective way to learn.

Brilliant thinkers (aka EC readers) never stop asking questions because they know that this is the best way to learning practical ways to improve their lives.

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Dear Mary: I’ve been looking to buy the inexpensive The First Years Ignite Stroller you so highly recommend, only to discover that it has been discontinued. Any suggestions on a replacement model that you can also recommend? Janet

Dear Janet: While The First Years Co. is no longer in business, as I write I see that Amazon has a few of this terrific stroller left in inventory. If you are unable to grab one of them, an excellent alternative is the Summer Infant 2015 3D Lite Convenience Stroller—priced at about half the current price of the Ignites. I like Summer Infant 2015 3D Lite Convenience Stroller a lot because it folds up so easily, it’s lightweight and quite comfy for the little ones. This stroller is very close  to the Ignite in every way and it’s getting lots of great reviews! Read more

If you love popcorn (who doesn’t?) you might be interested to know that the typical American consumes 68 quarts of the stuff every year.

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If you mostly eat concession stand movie popcorn, those 68 quarts are costing a bundle. To get a handle on that cost without giving up the joy, why not have more at-home movie nights (your local public library is likely to have all kinds of movies on DVD you can borrow for cheap or even free) when you make your own popcorn? Add a little variety to your popcorn and you might find it not only cheaper, but better to stay home now and then.

Kettle Corn

  • 1/2 cup un-popped popcorn kernels
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Place the popcorn, sugar and salt in a large pot with vegetable oil. Cover then place over medium heat. When you hear the first pop, shake the pot and continue shaking back and forth to ensure that the popcorn kernels and oil do not burn. Once the popping has slowed, remove the pot from heat. Servings: 5. Read more

Dear Readers: Yesterday I opened my mailbox to find 1) a letter from Jenn, asking me to send her my new an improved recipe for homemade laundry detergent (she’d clipped it from her newspaper, but now she couldn’t find it, 2) a message from Chuck asking for repeat information about Nok-Out odor eliminator, and a frantic request from Beverly who is battling ants in her kitchen and kicking herself around the block that she didn’t save the column on non-toxic ways to get rid of household pests.

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Every day I get requests to repeat tips, resources and information from past posts and columns.  And I don’t give these people the answers they’re looking for. Instead, I direct them to EverydayCheapskate.comthe repository for my columns and posts where all of the information they need is available including links to all of the resources, information, and websites using the easy-to-use search function. There’s also a contact form that lets anyone send a message straight to my inbox.

 The site is free. And while it’s not required, if you subscribe, you’ll hear from me from time to time. I send out bonuses, updated information and follow-ups to folks who have subscribed at EverydayCheapskate.com.   Read more

When my boys were really young, I had them convinced that I knew everything. More than that, I could read their minds and had eyes in the back of my head, too. That didn’t last for long, but I sure had fun with it while it did. And now I am having the time of my life with you, my dear readers. Your letters and tips help to keep me on top of technological advances plus everyday stuff I want to know, but cannot possible keep up with on my own. I appreciate and depend on you more than you will ever know!

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RADIO FREE. We bought a new car, which came with a trial offer of SiriusXM satellite radio service. It’s my wife’s car and she loves the satellite radio feature; but we do not like the cost.

Our cell phone service provider, T-Mobile, allows us to stream from select music services without affecting our data usage. These music apps have both free and subscription services available, depending on whether we want to pay to eliminate the commercials.

Voila! We can stream the music from our smart phones to the car stereo because of the features built into the car stereo (using USB, Bluetooth or headphone output jack) and it’s just like having the satellite radio for free. We can make a coast-to-coast drive without much loss of our favorite music at a savings of at least $10 a month. Dave Read more

For years, I believed an old wives’ tale that bananas will turn black and spoil almost instantly if you put them in the refrigerator. In fact, I even passed this notion on to you. Whoops! Hearing from reader Lin made me reconsider, test and now I must recant. Lin is right. I was wrong!

photo credit: Wikihow

photo credit: Wikihow

BANANAS IN THE FRIDGE. I read in your column a while back about how to keep fruit fresher longer. You said do not put bananas in the refrigerator. I beg to differ. We put fresh bananas in the fridge and they may turn back and ugly on the outside but inside even after seven days or longer, they are as fresh and firm as new. Try it. Lin

After testing and researching further, I have discovered that if I put the bananas in a plastic bag and tie or seal it tightly, then place this in the crisper drawer, the bananas retain their yellow color. There’s something about black bananas—even if the are totally fine inside—I find to be somewhat off-putting -mh

BABY BATHTUB. If your baby is too big for the infant tub but too small for your bathroom tub, buy a 10-gallon plastic storage tub and a rubber bath mat with tiny suction cups. For about $5 your baby won’t slip and fall, but will be able to splash and play and have a great time. This size “tub” should last a few years and when baby has outgrown it you have an instant storage bin. Just remember to stash the lid in a place you’ll not forget! Beth

And please, never ever leave a child alone in any amount of water for any length of time. -mh Read more